BLOOMINGTON — Every home game, the crowd at Assembly Hall stands until Indiana scores its first basket following the tipoff. When the Michigan women’s basketball team traveled to Bloomington on Sunday afternoon, the crowd stood for the first two minutes of the game.
The Wolverines took a 6-2 lead during that stretch, never relinquishing it, and went on to defeat Indiana 61-48.
During the first half, Michigan looked like the team that easily handled Indiana in Ann Arbor on Jan. 22. Senior guard Courtney Boylan tallied 11 first-half points, and junior forward Rachel Sheffer finished the period with eight rebounds and eight points.
But at other times, the Wolverines looked like the same team that blew a 13-point lead against Iowa at home last Thursday. Michigan uncharacteristically turned the ball over nine times during the first frame — some on consecutive possessions — and looked flustered against Indiana’s defense.
The Wolverines’ nine turnovers in the first half matched their entire game-total the last time the two teams squared off.
But Michigan coach Kevin Borseth attempted to rally his troops in the locker room during halftime, and whatever he said seemed to work.
The Wolverines went on a 9-0 run during the first four minutes of the second half, giving them a game-high 15-point lead. The Hoosiers had scored just six points by the 12-minute mark, mostly due to an increase in the defensive pressure by Michigan.
“I just think in the first half they were really strong and physical around that basket,” Borseth said. “I don’t think we did a very good job of bristling up in the first half. I think we did a better job in the second half, coming out strong and hitting a couple of quick buckets to start the second half.”
But Indiana coach Felisha Legette-Jack attributed Michigan’s second-half flurry to something different.
“(In the second half,) we decided to come out with some quick hits that were wide open, and just mistimed the pass… little things like that,” Legette-Jack said. “We had a game plan and nobody could score within the first few minutes of the second half.”
Boylan and Sheffer’s one-two-punch was too much for the Hoosiers to handle, especially in the second half. Sheffer tallied her second career double-double on Sunday, finishing with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Boylan added 14 points and five assists without a turnover.
But Boylan only played 27 minutes — eight minutes less than her season average. Freshman guard Brenae Harris gave Boylan a nice breather during both halves. She made the most of her 13 minutes, scoring four points on 2-for-3 shooting.
“Brenae adds a level of quickness for us, especially on the defensive end of the court,” Borseth said. “She does a good job of staying in front of people, and she’s athletic. We thought it was important that we had somebody out there that could guard in that environment. I thought she was a better defender 1-on-1 than Courtney was.”
The usually reliable Michigan bench was quiet on Sunday, tallying only ten points. Part of that was due to the offensive success that Sheffer, Boylan and the other starters had.
Though the Wolverine bench struggled, almost every Hoosier player struggled. With 9:20 left in the game, Indiana junior Aulani Sinclair knocked down two-straight 3-pointers and cut the Wolverine lead to ten points. Sinclair finished the game with 17 points and was the only Hoosier player to score in double digits.
“We guarded (Sinclair) like no tomorrow and she still had 17 points,” Borseth said. “We were basically face guarding her and she’s a scorer.”
Throughout the entire game, the Hoosiers didn’t look like a team that’s winless in the Big Ten. Indiana out-rebounded the Wolverines by six and cut Michigan’s 16-point lead to nine at one point. The Wolverines hadn’t won at Assembly Hall in nine years, and even though Indiana is weaker than usual this season, any road win is important.
“Every game is so big in the Big Ten,” Boylan said. “You look at (Indiana) and you are like, ‘How are they 0-13?’ Look at the athletes they have. They have a (6-foot-6 center) who can shoot 3’s. It’s only a matter of time before they start winning games and get back on track.”